Community First: A Bottom-Up Approach to Sustainability

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Pueblos Mancomunados Look Out

Pueblos Mancomunados Look Out

  • Los Pueblos Mancomunados

Among them, is the CBET project of Los Pueblos Mancomunados (The United Villages), which consists of eight remote zapotec indigenous villages located in the State of Oaxaca, in the twenty million-year-old thick pine and oak forest of the Sierra Norte, classified by the WWF as one of the most diverse and oldest ecosystem on earth.

For centuries, Los Pueblos Mancomunados had to live out of their exceptional natural heritage, because of forestry and other related activities. In 1998, seven villages decided to join their efforts to create a unique ecotourism destination based on the design of 120 km of scenic tracks and trails on a territory of 2,900 hectares.

They built comfortable cabins, camping areas, hanging bridges, zip-lines, eateries, trout hatcheries, white-tail deer farms and traditional temazcal (pre-Hispanic steam baths).

A wide range of activities such as hiking, horse-back riding, mountain-biking, wildlife watching were developed to enjoy the natural resources: magnificent landscapes, canyons, caves, crags, waterfalls and panoramic look-outs. As well, traditional feasts like the mushroom festival in Guajimoloyas are a good reason to visit these picturesque villages.

Communities are organized by villages to watch out for forest fires, logging, poachers and anything that could endanger their natural environment. Los Pueblos Mancomunados also comply with the Mexican Ecotourism Certification and recycling programs are common in the villages. Nowadays 15,000 ecotourists (50% foreigners, 50% nationals) visit Los Pueblos Mancomunados every year. The economic and social impact can be measured by the creation of 45 full-time jobs benefitting 80 families.

Nowadays 15,000 ecotourists (50% foreigners, 50% nationals) visit Los Pueblos Mancomunados every year. The economic and social impact can be measured by the creation of 45 full-time jobs benefitting 80 families. 

In 2002, Los Pueblos Mancomunados received the award of “Best ecotourism destination in its class” by the magazine Conde Nast Traveler and were chosen as the best CBET project two years in a row at the Ecotourism and Adventure Tourism Mexican Fair.

How has the bottom-up approach to sustainability worked in this project?

From a social point of view, the villages have been working together at the very beginning of the process, involving both men and women. They recognized the value of their natural and cultural heritage, built a strong community organization relying on their specific custom, the “Tequiu” (volunteer collective work), and kept their traditional way of life and dedicated years of efforts for common interests.

From an environmental point of view, they identified the exceptional natural resources of their millenary forests as their best asset and decided to preserve it, establishing careful wildlife watching and protective rules, selecting low impact nature-based activities, implementing recycling and eco-technologies, complying with ecotourism national standard and looking for environmental funding in embassies and NGOs.

From an economic point of view, they established a long-term strategy based on the idea of passing it on to the next generations; they viewed ecotourism as a complementary activity, designing world class ecotourism products; they established their own inbound operator Expediciones Sierra Norte (www.sierranorte.org.mx) in Oaxaca, while constantly training with professional quality tourism programs; they searched for funds at the regional, national and international level and they reinvested their profits into health, education and transportation-related projects.

Pantzingo Center

Pantzingo Center

  • San Juan Nuevo Parangaricutiro
Today, they welcome about 400 visitors a month and 60 communities a year which come from all over Mexico to learn about their experience. 

Another outstanding project is the Purepecha community conglomerate of San Juan Nuevo Parangaricutiro in the State of Michoacan. After the complete destruction of their original village by the eruption of the volcano Paricutin in 1943, they removed their cultivated lands and rebuilt their village nearby. Until the 70’s, their forests had been managed by private companies, causing damages to the vegetation, without mentioning the consequences of logging, wood plagues and forest fires.

In 1981, the community decided to retake the control on their forest with the help of academics and NGOs. They designed a new land use planning system which included the implementation of a new sustainable forestry management plan.